OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—A 17-point lead quickly turned into a one-point deficit. The opposing crowd was roaring its approval. The kind of situation that would have doomed the Detroit Lions a year ago was easily overcome in the season opener.
Jon Kitna backed up his big boasts by throwing a go-ahead, 32-yard touchdown pass to Shaun McDonald with 4:15 remaining, and Dewayne White caused two turnovers in the closing minutes to help the Lions spoil Lane Kiffin’s coaching debut in Oakland with a 36-21 victory over the Raiders on Sunday.
“I said during the offseason that how we handle adversity will be telling for this ballclub,” Kitna said. “I think we’re starting to turn the corner on that now. Guys are expecting to make plays now, and you saw the results.”
Kitna predicted in the offseason that the Lions would end a string of six double-digit loss seasons with at least 10 wins. That was heady stuff for a team coming off a 3-13 season. But Detroit lost eight of those games by seven or fewer points, lacking a few big plays at clutch times.
Kitna and White delivered in the season opener.
The matchup between the NFL’s two worst teams from a year ago turned highly entertaining in the second half when former Lions backup quarterback Josh McCown led the Raiders on three touchdown drives to turn a 17-0 deficit into a 21-20 Oakland lead with 7:43 to go.
Kitna then completed four of five passes on the game-winning drive, capping it with his third touchdown pass of the game. Facing no pressure, Kitna moved around in the pocket until McDonald broke open in the end zone for the score. McDonald then taunted the fans in Oakland’s Black Hole, celebrating the go-ahead score.
“In the fourth quarter, when it got loud, we didn’t blink,” Kitna said. “We kept executing and doing what we needed to do.”
The Lions added to the lead when Jason Hanson kicked a 23-yard field goal with 2 minutes left after McCown was intercepted by White.
White then stripped McCown on the next play and recovered a fumble to set up a 14-yard score by Tatum Bell that iced the game. White’s big plays validated the $13 million in guaranteed money the Lions gave him in the offseason to sign with Detroit.
“He’s a playmaker,” coach Rod Marinelli said. “He’s always been that, and it’s his time. He’s got the keys to the car.”
Kitna finished 27-for-36 for 289 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Bell added 87 yards rushing on 15 carries as the Lions gained 392 yards against last year’s third-ranked defense.
“With that amount of points, we should be able to win football games,” Raiders linebacker Kirk Morrison said. “We just didn’t pull it out.”
Despite the loss, the Raiders showed much more offensive spunk than they did a year ago, when they managed only 12 touchdowns on offense on the way to a 2-14 season. McCown, who beat out Daunte Culpepper for the starting job, completed 30 of 40 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns, but also turned the ball over three times.
“It just makes me sick,” McCown said. “I dwell more on the negatives right now, the turnovers and the things like that. Those are the things that I go over and over in my mind.”
Kiffin, 32, became the youngest man to coach a game in the NFL since Harland Svare took over the Los Angeles Rams as a 31-year old in 1962. The Raiders fans disagreed with his decision to start McCown, booing the offense and chanting “Daunte! Daunte!” after McCown was intercepted early in the third quarter.
“Fans have the right to their opinions,” Kiffin said. “After the third touchdown in a row they weren’t chanting for Daunte anymore.”
That first interception set up a 16-yard TD pass from Kitna to Calvin Johnson that made it 17-0. Making that score even worse was the fact that the Raiders passed on the chance to draft Johnson, picking quarterback JaMarcus Russell instead. While Russell remains unsigned in a contract dispute, Johnson had four catches for 70 yards in his debut.
“There’s definitely a winning attitude here,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t here, but a lot of guys say it’s totally different around here this year. This is a great way to come out and get started.”
McCown then put it together in Oakland’s best offensive stretch in years. He threw a 42-yard pass to Curry that set up Curry’s touchdown. That ended a stretch of 232 minutes, 44 seconds without a touchdown for the Raiders, dating to last season.
They got into the end zone again less than 3 minutes later. Stanford Routt’s interception of a pass that deflected off Roy Williams’ hands set up Jordan’s score that cut it to 17-14. A 7-yard pass to Justin Griffith on the next drive gave Oakland the lead, but Kitna made sure it wouldn’t last.
Sebastian Janikowski missed three long field goals in the first half for Oakland, just the third in his career he missed three field goals in a game. … Raiders C Jeremy Newberry left with a thumb injury after one series. … Detroit RB T.J. Duckett left in the first quarter with a sprained ankle and did not return.